LIVE: The Joey Alexander Trio @ the Music Haven, 8/2/15
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk, Rudy Lu
It was a perfect summer evening, and there were plenty of young kids playing in Schenectady’s Central Park – running around, riding their bicycles, playing on the swing sets. Then there was 12-year-old Joey Alexander, who was also playing in the park. And he was swinging, too – as the headlining musician for the Music Haven’s pentultimate concert of the season. And what a concert it was…
He’s no up-and-coming “ooo-baby-baby” tween-pop star, either. The pint-sized piano prodigy’s bag is jazz, and just the day before his Electric City concert, he was playing at the most prestigious jazz fest in the land – the Newport Jazz Festival – where fans were literally climbing the walls to watch him perform selections from his sparkling debut album, My Favorite Things.
In Schenectady, the crowd filled the seats as well as the park’s natural amphitheater, and while some may have come purely out of the curiosity factor, they stayed because the Indonesian-born, NYC-based Alexander is a really good musician. Not just really good for a kid. Really good. Period.
Confidently leading his trio – featuring the skin-tight and oh-so-enthusiastic bassist Russell Hall and drummer Sammy Miller – Alexander tore through such jazz standards as Wayne Shorter’s explosive “Footprints,” Billy Strayhorn’s bittersweet “Lush Life” and Thelonious Monk’s solidly swinging “I Mean You,” which earned him a rare – and well deserved – mid-show standing ovation.
His technique was masterful throughout his 90-minute performance, and he embraced a full range of jazz from blues boogie to bop and beyond with excellent precision, power and use of dynamics. But jazz requires more than simply technique, however masterful it is, and Alexander also exhibited plenty of imagination, artful arrangements and, most surprisingly, a considerable depth of emotional connection to the selections. How a 12-year-old can interpret “Lush Life” to such a degree is a mystery to me, but Alexander did.
And if that wasn’t enough to make your jaw drop, he also showcased some considerable songwriting skills by opening the show with one of his own compositions, “Ma Blues,” which resonated with echoes of Gershwin’s classic “Summertime.” Was he breaking new ground? No, not yet, but give him time…
The Music Haven’s emcee and artistic director Mona Golub summed up the evening as “a special moment in time,” and few who were in attendance would disagree.
Opening the show with a short five-song set were the Schenectady County Community College Jazz Combo, who started off a bit tentative with Nat Adderley’s warhorse “The Work Song,” but the quintet seemed to gain their footing with a funkified version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” fueled by drummer Ben Martin.
But, of course, these teenagers were seasoned veterans compared to the headliner.
If you didn’t catch Joey Alexander at the Music Haven – or if you did and you want more – you’ll have another chance to catch him in concert when he brings his trio to Club Helsinki in Hudson at 8pm on Sunday (August 16). Tickets are $35 & $65.